Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown."

Paul Taylor

Author Paul Taylor elucidates salient characteristics of the millennial generation in his book "The Next America: Boomers, Millennials (born after 1980 ) and the Looming Generational Showdown."  24-35 year olds 

The America of the near future will look nothing like the America of the recent past.

America is in the throes of a demographic overhaul. Huge generation gaps have opened up in our political and social values, our economic well-being, our family structure, our racial and ethnic identity, our gender norms, our religious affiliation, and our technology use.

Today's Millennials-well-educated, tech savvy, underemployed twenty-somethings-are at risk of becoming the first generation in American history to have a lower standard of living than their parents. Meantime, more than 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring every single day, most of them not as well prepared financially as they'd hoped. This graying of our population has helped polarize our politics, put stresses on our social safety net, and presented our elected leaders with a daunting challenge: How to keep faith with the old without bankrupting the young and starving the future.

Every aspect of our demography is being fundamentally transformed. By mid-century, the population of the United States will be majority non-white and our median age will edge above 40-both unprecedented milestones. But other rapidly-aging economic powers like China, Germany, and Japan will have populations that are much older. With our heavy immigration flows, the US is poised to remain relatively young. If we can get our spending priorities and generational equities in order, we can keep our economy second to none. But doing so means we have to re-balance the social compact that binds young and old. In tomorrow's world, yesterday's math will not add up.

Drawing on Pew Research Center's extensive archive of public opinion surveys and demographic data, The Next America is a rich portrait of where we are as a nation and where we're headed-toward a future marked by the most striking social, racial, and economic shifts the country has seen in a century.

And This Review:

Will the Boomerangers ever grow up? Eventually, perhaps, but not just yet. More than 4 in 10 of today’s twenty-somethings, like Junior, have returned home to live with their parent(s) at some stage of their young adult lives. As for marriage—for now, fuhgeddaboudit. Back when Jane was the age Junior is now, about half of all twenty-somethings in America were married. Today about 20 percent are. The Millennials’ two seemingly incompatible characteristics—their slow walk to adulthood and their unshaken confidence in the future—are their most distinctive traits. Despite inheriting the worst economy since the Great Depression, despite rates of youth un- and underemployment that are the highest since the government began keeping such records, despite the growing albatross of student loan debt, and despite not being able to think about starting a family of their own, Millennials are America’s most stubborn optimists. They have a self-confidence born of coddling parents and everyonegets-a-trophy coaches. They have a look-at-me elan that comes from being humankind’s first generation of digital natives (before them, nobody knew that the whole world wanted to see your funny cat photos). And they have the invincibility of youth. For all those reasons, Millennials are far more bullish than their better-off elders about their financial future. Even as they struggle to find jobs and launch careers, even as 4 in 10 describe themselves as being in the lower or lower middle classes (a higher share than any other generation), nearly 9 in 10 say they already have or one day will have enough money to meet their financial needs. No other generation is nearly as optimistic.
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and an expert on twenty-somethings, ascribes their optimism to their lack of life experience. “The dreary, dead-end jobs, the bitter divorces, the disappointing and disrespectful children . . . none of them imagine that this is what the future holds for them,” he writes. In an interview with Robin Marantz Henig for a New York Times Magazine article, Arnett elaborated: “Ask them if they agree with the statement ‘I am very sure that someday I will get to where I want to be in life,’ and 96 percent of them will say yes. . . .But despite elements that are exciting, even exhilarating, about being this age, there is a downside, too: dread, frustration, uncertainty, a sense of not quite understanding the rules of the game.” Arnett says that what he hears most often from young adults is ambivalence; 60 percent of his subjects tell him they felt like both grown-ups and not-quite-grown-ups.
When it comes to their economic prospects, are they clueless Peter Pans on course for an unhappy rendezvous with reality? There’s no shortage of elders who fear exactly that. “We have a monster jobs problem, and young people are the biggest losers,” says Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, who predicts the specter of unemployment will “haunt young people for at least another decade. . . . It almost makes you want to cry for the future of our country.” Harvard economist Richard Freeman says today’s young adults “will be scarred and they will be called ‘the lost generation’—in that their careers would not be the same had they avoided this economic disaster.” These and other pessimists believe America’s unemployment crisis is as much structural as cyclical—a by-product of a witch’s brew of globalization, automation, foreign competition, and a faltering education system. Millennials, they worry, are on track to become the first generation in American history to do less well in life than their parents.
All of these challenges will be exacerbated once the nation has to start coping with the full cost of the retirement of 76 million Boomers. The oldest turned 65 in 2011. By the time the youngest cross that threshold in 2030, America’s age pyramid will take on a shape it has never had before. About 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older, up from 1 in 7 now. The number of retirees on Social Security and Medicare will rise to about 80 million by 2030, roughly double the figure in 2000. Among them, the fastest growing cohort will be the “old-old.” The number of seniors ages 85 and older is expected to more than triple between now and 2050, to 19 million. Fewer workers supporting more of the old and old-old isn’t much of a formula for economic growth, standard of living gains, or social comity. “It’s like a seesaw—if one side is up, the other side has to be down,” says Andrew Biggs, a former deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration, of the challenge of preserving a safety net for the old without bankrupting the young. “Nobody wants to do the actual things you have to do so you don’t screw your kids on this stuff.”

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